Tag Archives: tall-lighthouse

“death, that tune that keeps on playing in the background”

Cocktails from the Ceiling, Aoife Mannix, tall-lighthouse, £8
reviewed by Jim Murdoch

cocktails from the celing mannix

In a 2012 interview Aoife talks about what poetry is to her:

Poetry for me is somewhere between music and prose. It’s a way of expressing how you experience the world. It can be both intensely personal and intensely political. I think in contemporary society people still turn to poetry to mark the most significant occasions in life such as weddings and funerals. Poetry is a compact and powerful means of revealing our inner most thoughts and feelings.

In Cocktails from the Ceiling we see some of both. The political appears in pieces like ‘The Memory of Water’ talking about the Troubles:

They say water remembers
no matter how diluted, a drop
of blood dissolving in a glass of whisky.

or ‘The Eye of the Needle’, dedicated to Pussy Riot:

I bet when Jesus went into the temple
and started knocking over stalls,
there were those who said this is just
some punk from Bethlehem pulling a PR stunt,

The personal is in poems like ‘Singing’:

You always knew how to name things,
even death, that tune that keeps on
playing in the background.

and ‘Message In A Bottle’:

The nurse said they can still hear you even
from a great distance, even when they are
floating in air and the body is empty.

Someone’s died. Someone who spent time in palliative care. Her Gran, I suspect, who used to serve her “egg sandwiches/ with white wine” and told her “stories of rebellion and theatrical drama”. Hard to be sure but loss and grief hover over this collection. Aoife ends the poem ‘Map Reading’ with the line “time has a very poor sense of direction” and in ‘Going Back’ she talks of a “landscape … buried inside us”. This collection feels like a memoir, whether it is autobiographical or not. I imagine when Aoife leafs through this book it may feel like a map of her life: playing in the church on rainy Sunday afternoons, visiting Dublin, being grilled by a security guard at Stansted, “[t]he clouds over Waterloo Bridge”, sitting in the hospice, a trip to Glasgow, “on the road to God knows where”.

Organising any collection is difficult, trying to plan a route through poems written years apart. I’m sure the order of this collection makes perfect sense to Aoife. I can see there’s a story being told here but I struggled with it and it took me weeks to produce this review. The poems aren’t hard. There’s the odd overtly ‘poetic’ bit—”ghosts/ of butterflies newly born”—which some will scratch their heads at but most of the poetry here’s accessible and personable and certainly anyone who’s lost someone—be it a baby or a grandparent—will be touched by many of these pieces. Little humour here though; it’s not that kind of book. No idea what the title’s all about. It’s a line from a poem but not the one I would’ve picked.

Jim Murdoch

“journeys have their special relativities…”

Pursued by Well-being, Mark Russell, tall-lighthouse, £5.00
reviewed by Jim Murdoch

mark russell pursued
The poems in this slim pamphlet are set in places as far-flung as the Jewish quarter in Prague, Addis Ababa, Rome and some bus stop on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow. “Journeys,” Mark writes, “have their special// relativities./ Some end in relief/ others in catastrophe.” Whatever we’ve just ended or wherever we end up the one thing we all have to do, however, is cope, so if what Williams said is true and poems are machines then these are all coping mechanisms. Personally I would’ve named this collection after its final poem, ‘One Way Ticket Round the World’, and would have moved it to the start for its opening sound advice:

All you need is an umbrella—
                 because you must visit Scotland;

It isn’t always chucking it down in Scotland; sometimes it just drizzles. In fact it’s a clear night on the M74 in the poem of the same title although the narrator still winds up recalling a rainy night from his past.

To remember a journey
it must have more
than uneaten sausage rolls

under the seat,
flames from the boot,
ice on the tyres.

The poet makes his entrance in the opening poem:

I wait in the wings upstage left,
breathe in through the nose,
out through the mouth, cluck
consonants, throw forth some vowels.

Mark has his homemade bag full of tricks: puns and similes, alliterations, metaphors and a layer of wry, and occasionally quite dark, humour:


As an act of love
I promise to have
A crimson tattoo
Of little red hearts
In the softened wheals
Your teeth left behind.

There’s nothing here we’ve not seen before. What we’re made to do though is look again, as in the title poem:

It’s like seeing sheep in the high street,
or molten gold hanging from the trees.

Or it might be your dad dropping “his drawers/ in Oils and Dressings at Tesco” or some old codger swatting “the rain as it hits the glass” on the bus. Come again?

Coping is a journey, moving from one state to another. Sometimes the answer is to physically relocate and Mark does seem to have lived a peripatetic life; other times it’s a shift in perspective that’s needed. There’s an inevitable looking back here although I expect Mark tossed his rose-tinted spectacles out some car window years ago: his Proustian madeleines are all “flat and tasteless”. He remembers scramblers, rooms, his mate’s sister who precipitated his first erection, the woods near his house, although at the time he

…did not see the black thoughts—
how they were sown, sprouted roots,
harrowed the wild woodland playground
to this place of unadorned silence.

It took me a while to get into this chapbook. Couldn’t quite make a connection. But it grew on me. Some poems felt voyeuristic and left me with that uncomfortable awkward feeling Larkin does so well; not a criticism. My favourites were the Glasgow-based because I’ve been there. Minor issue: the print was a wee bit small for me.

Jim Murdoch